Art, life, design, and stuff…

You may have noticed that things have gotten a little quiet around here lately, or that my tone over on Twitter has been a bit glum. I gotta admit that I have been a bit down lately. I did one post about the economics of being a fabric designer a little while back, but that really only scratches the surface of what is going around in my head right now…

This fabric thing that started eighteen months ago has rapidly skipped from whim, to reality, to business. Obviously I am excited about the opportunity, but it certainly changes a lot of things. You see, I never wanted to be a full-time working artist. Ever. The only thing I wanted to be was a professor. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the primary one was that what I made (whether it be writing or art) did not have to sell. It had to be good; it had to stand up to rigorous scrutiny, but it held no direct relationship with economics. Of course it was vital to maintaining my standing in academia and retaining my job, but my livelihood was not tied directly to the profitability of the scholarly work itself. And that is a big difference.

Up until recently I my fabric work was focused on the same set of questions as my academic work, colors were developed as indicator of subtle conceptual cues, buried narratives, and oblique reference sets. I was judging the decisions relative to a complex, multilayered framework meant to evoke specific sensations and histories. But now that I get sales reports, periodic reminders linking my work directly and immediately to the family’s financial security there is a whole new criterion: the Market.

Please, don’t get me wrong, I think I have a whole lot to learn about fabric design; the list of problems with my first three collections could fill a book. I am getting better at this and will continue to do so with each collection, and the Market actually provides useful critical information, let’s me see what people are responding to and what they aren’t, and that is important to me, and doesn’t bother me at all…

In fact, the biggest lesson I have learned through this is that fabric as I design it is only an intermediary. It is not the finished product by any means; it provides the starting point for what it will become. Learning that has changed the way I look at color, at the density of my prints, at how I connect prints together (or sometimes don’t). In many ways the Market is like crowd-sourcing feedback (another thing I love doing). While I do listen to all the individual voices, what I am really after is a sensibility, an overarching impression. I don’t design for that majority, or plurality, voice that appears, and I often go opposite direction (I really and truly trust the instincts I have developed over nearly 25 years of art education and practice). But…

This direct relationship of my work to the Market changes things. I worry about things selling. I can’t see myself ever making stuff just because it will sell, but every decision gets caught up into that whole matrix of sales, income, medical bills, Bee’s future, ballet classes, etc. etc…

It weighs on me, makes me doubt myself in ways I never previously have, sets me squarely in the center of a circle I cannot control. Back in academia I could solve any problem with a piece because the criteria stemmed from the internal logic of the project and the coherence of its resolution. I cannot control the Market; I can intuit it and make work fits within it even as it satisfies my investigations, but in the end I am subject to its vicissitudes, unknown circumstances, and a million things beyond my reach.

Yes, this is the nature of life. The world is complex. Things are hard. I am not blind to reality, but this specific difference is difficult for me. Not because I have any particular faith in being an artist (you don’t want to start me on my rant about art), but because I am an academic. All this doubt is not about whether people will like my work (though that is an implied step in the process). It is the recognition that I have to worry about sales, that for a plethora of reasons I need this to work, to become a living, that failure has real and serious implications. I have avoided having my creative/scholarly work tied directly to these considerations for the past twenty years because I know my brain, but here I am…

And I’m struggling with it.

Hugs,
T

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